March 26, 2011

The Carrie Barrepski Interview: Passionate Crusader for The Disabled.

Recently I had the very great pleasure of  interviewing Carrie Barrepski for Elephant Journal. I have admired Carrie and her work ever since I met her blogging on the Yoga Journal Community a couple of years ago.  Carrie writes a weekly blog called Carrie Writes discussing her yoga practice and disabilities. I urge everyone to subscribe.

Hi, Carrie.  Welcome to Elephant Journal.  You have a very compelling personal story, and I like the way you put it right up front on your web page carriewrites.net.  For our readers who might not have seen your website, could you just tell us that story now, as an introduction?

I am an individual with multiple disabilities: cerebral palsy, hearing loss and I am also legally blind. As a result of these disabilities and the experiences I’ve encountered, I developed a strong passion for disability rights and advocating for the disabled.

I graduated with a BSW from Madonna University in 1996. Having always been interested in writing since childhood, I began writing columns online in 2000 on topics affecting the disabled community.

I was married in 2005 after meeting my husband online in a chat room for people with hearing loss. When I moved to Massachusetts, the Springfield Republican began publishing my column, Carrie Writes, every Wednesday in the Metro Plus section.

It is my hope that as a result of my columns, people will be more aware of disability issues and I will have a positive impact on the disabled community.

How does Yoga fit in?

I discovered yoga in my twenties during a time I felt lost and disconnected. At first I was looking for a safe exercise program to help with stiffness and flexibility. I tried many DVDs some were too difficult for me. I finally discovered Seane Corn DVDs they were perfect for from the pace to modifications.

Through Seane I also found a spiritual connection within my self at the heart. I also learned how turn my passion of writing into my purpose of helping people with disabilities and inspiring others. Every day I practice yoga on and off the mat as a wife, writer, yogini and activist.

Tell us more about what it means to you to be an activist.

Activism has always been a big part of my life with having to learn fast to advocate for myself especially in college to get my needs met. It is almost like I was born with it because being an activist came so naturally for me. Today I use my own experiences to help and inspire others through my writings.

I connect activism to my yoga practice by practicing karma yoga because there is nothing better then helping people and making the world a better place to live in. It is my purpose to reverse the disability stigma by spreading the message that we are not defined by our disability. Instead it comes second to our own personal identity.

How would you compare society’s attitude toward disabilities now compared to, say, ten years ago.  Are we making progress?

My mom always tells the story of how after I was born my parents were told by a doctor that I should be institutionalized due to my disabilities. The reasoning was that my disabilities would ruin their love and marriage.  Of course my parents didn’t listen but instead became my biggest supporters and advocates.  We have moved away from the idea of institutions and hiding away people with disabilities.

Another old theory was that a disability was something that needed to be fixed or that it defined a person.  We are now in the community living movement with the belief that all people with disabilities have the right to live and work independently in their own communities.  We are also in the people first movement, where we are showing that people are separate from their disability.

Also, 2010 was the twentieth anniversary of the ADA and there is more understanding and awareness of the law.  Today accommodations are much easier to request, and in many cases technology has improved accessibility for disabled individuals.  Today we still have a lot of disability issues to deal with from negative stereotypes, stigma and discrimination.

Your story and your work are very inspiring to the rest of us.  What should people do who want to support your work for the disabled?

I would ask people to view people with disabilities as who they are without their disability because the disability is just one of many wonderful characteristics. We are all beautiful, unique individuals with many gifts and talents to share with the world. We are all equal with our own identities that shine in a positive light.

Thanks for joining us here at Elephant and we wish you continued success with your vital work.

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